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It was so hot yesterday that I didn’t even try to cajole the girls into running laps at Girls on the Run. Instead, we played soccer.  This was actually my first time ever playing soccer.  The girls crushed me.

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It was team Mashed Potato Sharks v. the GOTR Gators.  I was on the Gators but – I must admit – was secretly cheering for the Mashed Potato Sharks based purely on their team name. 

 

Our new ‘thing’ at GOTR is wearing our hair in high ponytails, like water fountains.  Pretty awesome.  I think the Husband is jealous that he can’t do it, too.

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When you’re a GOTR coach for a few seasons and have repeat girls, they really begin to trust you and come to you with life problems.  Usually, it’s pretty easy to offer up solutions (life in 3rd grade is pretty cut-and-dry), but every now and then, I get hit with a toughie.  While “What does it mean to be gay?” and “Why don’t you go to church on Sundays?” were tricky to answer (um, to say the least), I was really stumped by this question… Girl #1 wanted to know if Girl #2 was also a bully because Girl #2 was friends with a bully, and whether Girl #2 should stop being friends with the bully just because she was occasionally a bully (the bullying behavior in question was spreading rumors). 

 

I try really hard not to get the girls the ‘politically correct’ answer about stuff like bullying because, let’s face it, bullying is extremely complicated and will follow them well into adulthood.  It’s also a problem that occurs at home between family members.  So simply saying, “Love everyone regardless of what they do or say!” is not necessarily enough – ya know? 

 

So, I paused and thought about my own life.  Do I have friends who behave in ways that I don’t 100% agree with?  Of course.  Do I sometimes behave in ways that my friends probably don’t like?  I’m sure.  You can’t control other people, and if you need friends to be perfect people, you’re probably not going to have any friends.  But, of course, you should draw the line and speak up against really nasty behaviors.  There are some behaviors that I wouldn’t tolerate in a friend – for example, once I stepped way back from a friendship (and eventually phased the relationship out) after I noticed the person displayed racist tendencies.  Not cool – and definitely a friendship deal breaker for me.

 

My preliminary answer to the girls was that Girl #1 can’t tell Girl #2 who to be friends with and that trying to force her to end a friendship was a form of bullying, too.  Also, Girl #2 should think about whether she wants to be friends with someone who is occasionally mean to others (especially because her friend may turn on her one day).  I did say that I don’t think it makes Girl #2 a bully-by-proxy just to be friends with a bully, but I’m not sure about that.  Is she condoning behavior by letting it slide?  That being said – let’s be real – I know very, very few people who never trash talk others. 

 

I told the girls that I would think about my answer and get back to them with more details – which really means I wanted to take a blog poll. Winking smile 

 

What would you tell my girls?  Can you think of any real-life examples that I can share with them when I discuss it?  And would you rather be a Mashed Potato Shark or a GOTR Gator?

{ 43 comments }

 

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  • Claire @ Live and Love to Eat May 2, 2012, 9:53 am

    It’s sweet that the girls come to you with tough questions – and refreshing to realize how thoughtful and inquisitive they are, even in 3rd grade.

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  • Kelley May 2, 2012, 9:57 am

    Those girls are so lucky to have such a positive role model they can trust and look up to. You are so inspiring!

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  • Faith @ For the Health of It May 2, 2012, 10:03 am

    I really miss teaching – not for the actually classroom stuff, but for the heart-to-hearts I had with my kiddos. Knowing that they look up to you and want your opinion on something that really matters…it’s so heartwarming. Little ones really are SO inquisitive and curious. I really should look into a weekend volunteering opportunity!

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  • michelle May 2, 2012, 10:04 am

    This really strikes a chord with me as I’m observing this exact kind of bullying at work in a professional environment. I’m comparatively friend #2 and friendly with the team bully. I had always noticed the behavior but they were always so friendly and loyal to me. Until recently I realized that it’s all quite political and the friendship was not to be trusted. I have decided to stay friendly as to keep the team together but to consistently stand up for others when I see the bullying behavior. I think it takes time and experiences to notice and create your own point of view; but I know now it will be much easier to spot next time. So tricky! They always say you’ll never leave high school :D

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    • CaitlinHTP May 2, 2012, 10:10 am

      This is TOUGH with work isn’t it? I suspect Girl #2 may be concerned about standing up to the bully because the bully could turn on her – a legit concern when you’re friends with a bully, ESPECIALLY in the workplace.

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  • Hillary May 2, 2012, 10:17 am

    As a middle school teacher, this is an issue I deal with a LOT. Bullying is treated very lightly, but it’s an extremely complex and heavy issue, especially in the life of a child/teenager. I think you came up with a good answer, especially because I think it’s really hard for a third grader to understand what it means to condone a behavior. Kids that age do what they can to keep themselves out of harm’s way for the most part—and sometimes that includes enabling others’ behaviors. It’s not right, but it’s life.

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  • Jamie @ Don't Forget the Cinnamon May 2, 2012, 10:22 am

    Hmmm…that’s definitely a toughie! Kudos to the girl who brought it up for being so aware of the social dynamics between her friends!

    I’m not sure that hanging around a bully makes a person a bully by default. I think it depends on how she reacts. If she laughs when the bully makes jokes at the expense of another than I’d say she’s guilty but if she feels uncomfortable and is too shy to speak up then that’s more of a gray area.

    I’d encourage the girls to speak up when a peer says something mean or offensive. Perhaps give them some ideas of how to do so without being mean and offensive right back?

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  • Katy @ HaveYouHurd May 2, 2012, 10:23 am

    This is so interesting because I have had a very similar situation in my adult life. I played basketball in college and most of my teammates are still some of my best friends. I do however, have a former teammate who is someone I consider to be a very dishonest person. She has hurt a number of my friends and done some really horrible stuff to people. She has never necessarily done anything substantial to me, but her behavior has proven to me that she is not a good person and not someone I’d like to associate myself with.

    However, one of my best friends from the team is very close to her and was even in her wedding! My bestie often says, “well she’s never done anything to me” when people ask how she’s still friends with this girl. I would never stop being friends with my bestie just because she was friends with this meanie, but I sometimes wonder how you could truely trust someone who has done so many awful things to people you care about?

    Interesting how many social issues in 3rd grade occur years later…

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  • vks May 2, 2012, 10:24 am

    Very tough questions! Especially because you don’t know what Mom or Dad may be telling/teaching them at home.

    Might be too complex for third graders, but I think I would talk about being an example and trying to be the kind of friend you want to have. I think that fits into your answer about thinking about the types of friends you want to have. And of course encouraging her to keep talking with you or others if she observes more hurtful behavior.

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  • Shelly May 2, 2012, 10:33 am

    Tough question! I think girl #2 could also leverage her friendship with the girl to prevent her from bullying in the future.
    And I think that most people can have episodes where they are both the bully and the bullied. I was severely bullied as a child/teen but I can recall incidents (which I now deeply regret) where I joined in when the rest of my class was bullying another student, just to have the negative attention directed away from me. :(

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  • Jess May 2, 2012, 10:34 am

    I teach third grade and in my district we have a zero tolerance for bullying policy. Girl #2 would be considered “a bully” if she associates and witnesses the real bully being a bully. The kids are taught that silence is absolute worst thing to do. Girl #2 would be educated and encouraged to speak up against this bully rather than condone it and be friends with her.

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  • Sara May 2, 2012, 10:44 am

    My advice to the girls would be no it does not make her a bully if she is friends with someone who occasionally bullies but perhaps the girl#2 should really think about her relationship with the bully and if she is ok with some of the bully’s actions and how she, in turn, reacted. Did she say something? Did she let it happen? Did she agree? Maybe some inward reflecting and some more time to now observe with open eyes to her bully friend will give Girl2 an answer in the longer run?? I think Girl2 should be friends with the bully if she really does like her since we all have friends with faults but maybe to feel like it’s OK/have the confidence it’s OK to say something if she disagrees with the bully next time? I think that’ll be the true test of their friendship and whether the bully is a true friend or not. ?? maybe?? so tough. :(

    Reply
  • Rebecca May 2, 2012, 10:48 am

    I just watched an episode of a cartoon I used to love as a kid, and it dealt with bullying. A group of 6/7th grade kids who get bullied constantly decide to get back at the bullies and consequently become bullies themselves.
    I think your answer was pretty much perfect, especially when for third graders.

    This kind of makes me miss my Junior High kids. They drove me nuts a lot, but I did learn a lot from them, and sometimes they asked amazing questions that I wasn’t sure how to answer!

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  • Bo May 2, 2012, 10:52 am

    Bullying is such a tricky topic for kids and adults. My husband and I always disagree when we talk about it. I get the sense that he was never bullied and never witnessed first hand the effects of it. I wasn’t bullied, but my older brother was, from a young age I started telli g off the big kids on the bus for picking on my bro. It wasn’t helpfull, but I did try. That doesn’t mean however, that I never got swept up by the crowd mentality and stood by while some of my peers bullied others.

    Instinctively, my way of surviving adolescents was to fly under the radar, and that for sure meant not rocking the boat. Social dynamics are so hard to navigate for all humans. We want everyone, including ourselves to stand up for what we know is right, but sometimes that would be social suicide.

    I think I would tell a girl that if her friends behavior made them feel uncommfortable, they should leave. If they feel like they can’t speak up, at least they can take away their silent support of the meaness by not being there. I have friends even as an adult that I will only hang out with one on one because I don’t like how they act in a group.
    So perhaps it’s an easy way out, but that’s how I made it out in one piece.

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    • Caitlin May 3, 2012, 7:52 pm

      I actually think this is great advice – to at least teach kids about the dangers of silent support.

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  • Carolina John May 2, 2012, 11:06 am

    We all decide who to be friends with and who should be avoided. The best thing to tell the girls is to pick their friends wisely. You know what you’re doing here.

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  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats May 2, 2012, 11:23 am

    oh dear, conundrums of 3rd grade… oh wait and 24 year olds. I don’t think girl 2 is a bully by association, but this girl who asked the question just has to decide who she wants to spend her time with. If she doens’t think she’ll benefit from a relationship with girl 2 then she should step back a bit, but of course still be polite and kind, not just write her off. I think that’s key with younger girls – things tend to be black and white, like these are my good friends and these are not. It’s important to learn lines are blurry!

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  • Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) May 2, 2012, 11:23 am

    Bullies are scary business. I don’t like it if the kids are friends with bullies too because they can get pulled into the situation and that is a bad road to go down.

    I would totally want to be on the Mashed Potato Sharks!

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  • Sara May 2, 2012, 11:27 am

    mmm mashed potatoes!

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  • Kendra May 2, 2012, 11:36 am

    I would tell them that Girl #2 should speak up to the bully when she doesn’t approve of the way she treats others. For one, it encourages Girl #2 to speak up for what she believes in, instead of worrying that she will lose her friend. It also tells the bully that other people notice her bullying and that people are NOT ok with it. There is a chance the bully might not even realize she is a bully, or know that it’s not ok. Maybe she will think trice about how she treats people so that she doesn’t lose friends?

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  • Liz @ Tip Top Shape May 2, 2012, 11:48 am

    I think everyone is a mix of good and bad. Just because someone bullies doesn’t mean their automatically a bad person, nor are their friends. Obviously it isn’t good if the friend is a bully, but this doesn’t mean her friends are bullies, as well.

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  • Army Amy* May 2, 2012, 11:48 am

    Great question! I have a casual friend who I think sometimes bullies. I’m nice to her, but I try to keep some distance between us. I don’t tell her things in confidence, and I have had to remove myself from situations where she is mean to others. I want to be her friend, but I can’t let her bring me down.*

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  • Kattrina May 2, 2012, 12:00 pm

    Hmm, that’s a tough dynamic. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Girl #2 is a bully but I would say she could be guilty by association, if that makes sense. I think it’s hard to make a good judgment because we don’t know the real extent of the bullying – is it “innocent” trash talk (which I think can be normal) or is it really harmful rumors? And what would “we” say if the bullying was throwing rocks at other kids? If the bully was throwing rocks and beating people up, etc., and Girl #2 was still friends with this person, I wouldn’t think Girl #2 was completely innocent. She may not be bullying people, but I would question why she would be friends with someone so horrible. Yes, friends are not perfect, but I think it’s important that Girl #1 realizes that it’s important to draw the line somewhere because everyone needs to know what is acceptable to them and what is not (i.e. you not being friends with the person with racist tendencies).

    When I lived in Honduras there was a great saying that (roughly) translated to: I know you because I know your who your friends are. And I think this situation speaks to this. I think it’s important for girls (and everyone) to realized that who they are friends with reflects on their personal character and values and that it’s important to choose friends wisely.

    I’m not sure this situation is so drastic (depending on what the rumors are), but I think it’s an important lesson. What if spreading rumors turned to throwing rocks, to beating people up, to taking a gun to school and killing other students? What would we think of a person who was good friends with someone who did those things?

    I don’t know the right answer but it definitely is something to think about!

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    • Caitlin May 3, 2012, 7:51 pm

      I like that saying – it’s pretty true.

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  • Sara May 2, 2012, 12:16 pm

    What a good topic!! I love that kids challenge us in these ways. Your initial response was really good.

    Back in January I had lunch with the wife of my husband’s friend. Almost the entire lunch she bad-mouthed my new sister-in-law, who though I agree isn’t winning any mother of the year awards, I still did not enjoy the conversation. It completely put me off to this woman. Sitting through almost two hours of listening to her character assassinate my sister-in-law left a bad taste in my mouth, and a sadness in my heart.

    I judge people just as everyone else does. The difference is that instantly I recognize what I am doing, and tell myself that this is just my opinion and I do not really know that person’s heart and everything that is going on in their lives.

    On any given day you might believe me to be a total B….but I am not, I am merely human.

    I am extremely careful about who I let into my inner circle. I always ask, “Are they adding to, or taking away from my circle of life?”

    I will say after the initial lunch that woman’s behavior has been constant judgement of others. So I have chose not to pursue a meaningful relationship with her. That does not mean I will not be polite to her when in the same environment. I never want to write someone off completely, because there is redemption in us all.

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  • Laura is Undeterrable May 2, 2012, 12:24 pm

    That is such a tough question! I would probably say to lead by good example. Be a kind hearted and loving person and the bully will follow.

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  • Annette@FitnessPerks May 2, 2012, 12:33 pm

    I’d think I’d rather be a gator :)

    And with those tough questions, I always say to try and be yourself and set a good example-no matter what.

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  • Jo @ Jo In the Kitchen May 2, 2012, 1:11 pm

    I think what you told the girls is very good advice. Maybe Girl #2 can be encouraged to gently call awareness to the bullying, because her friend may not even be aware she’s doing it.

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  • hawley May 2, 2012, 1:22 pm

    Such an interesting thing to bring up! I recently watched an amazing documentary, The Bully Project, which attempts to increase awareness of the bullying problem in the US. It was EXTREMELY well done, and very thought-provoking. Definitely a must-see if you’re working with kids!

    Thanks for starting the discussion on such an important subject.

    Some great resources can be found here:
    http://www.stopbullying.gov/

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    • Caitlin May 3, 2012, 7:50 pm

      I need to see this doc! Thanks for the rec.

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  • Amber K May 2, 2012, 1:27 pm

    I agree with other commenters, to keep things friendly so that the bully doesn’t turn on them. But I wouldn’t trust the friendship. And I would casually bring up my own opinion of how one should act and be to people in general.

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  • Kendra @ My Full-Thyme Life May 2, 2012, 1:35 pm

    Hmmm… that is a toughy! I definitely agree with the other comments. I was a coach for three years to girls the same age as your GOTR kiddos. Being a good role model for them and being someone they could trust to be honest with them was very important to me. Don’t worry, you will know just what to say. As long as you are open and honest with them in a manner that they can relate to. Good luck! I look forward to hearing how it went. But most importantly… how about this for a team name?? (being said in a very stylish southern accent) Mashed Potater Gators!!!

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  • Sophie @ threetimesf May 2, 2012, 1:44 pm

    I live and work in a boarding house with teenage girls (14-15) and am regularly completely stumped by their questions and worries – I’m glad that im not the only one!!

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  • Megan - NewlyWife May 2, 2012, 2:00 pm

    I love rockin the high pony!

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  • Lekki Wood May 2, 2012, 2:52 pm

    I am 14 weeks and loved seeing the flashback picture of you then. I have followed your pregnancy avidly and learned so much. Good luck and enjoy the final weeks :o)

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    • Caitlin May 3, 2012, 7:50 pm

      Congrats!!!!!!!

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  • Julie May 2, 2012, 3:04 pm

    Caitlin, you are such a great role model for those girls! I always think your responses to them are excellent!

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  • Corey May 2, 2012, 4:56 pm

    I work at an elementary school, and I usually tell my kids that they should stand up for someone who is being bullied. That being said, the “bully” may be someone who needs someone to understand her and to be a friend to her, too, because a lot of times bullying behaviors come from another underlying cause of unhappiness. So I might tell the girls to treat everyone with respect, even the bully, but to stand up for what they know is right:).

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  • Tricia May 2, 2012, 5:37 pm

    Two things came to my mind when you said that, Well three. My mom used to tell me the quote, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you you’re future”. And “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And well of course another thing my mom always taught me, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!

    I’d have to say it comes down to knowing your limits. When I was in junior high I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. These people had bad language, partied a lot, made fun of others, and were disrespectful to adults. But they were “cool” and they were nice to me. I was compared to “A walk to remember” with one of the guys. But then one day we were talking and I started using language I never used and making someone else feel small. I walked away that day and never looked back. I wasn’t strong enough to not let them influence me. And I knew I didn’t want to be like that.
    So I guess what I am saying is, if you can be a friend without letting those negative qualities effect you, its ok to be friends. But if you can’t, maybe those aren’t the best friends for you at the moment.

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  • Leslie May 2, 2012, 7:31 pm

    As a teacher, I can relate to dealing with difficult questions! What I try to remember, and tell my students, is that we are all capable of being cruel. I try not to identify people solely by one element of their character, and so refrain from using the word ‘bully’ to describe anyone. Instead, I utilize the word ‘bullying’ to describe the act of mistreating someone. When speaking in these terms, it is easier to see that we are all in the same boat, but some are making different decisions about how to treat others. As a victim of bullying myself I know how much it hurts, but I also want to teach my students to be compassionate people who don’t label others based on one characteristic.

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    • Caitlin May 3, 2012, 7:49 pm

      Great advice – I talked to the girls about this today.

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  • Bethany May 2, 2012, 9:41 pm

    There are some great picture books on this topic – Say Something by Peggy Moss and Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig come to mind (can you tell I’ve taught 2nd and 3rd grade?). Maybe check those out from your local library and use them to facilitate the conversation? If I remember correctly, there might even be resource/support materials for adults in the back of one/both of these books. Good luck – this is important work you’re doing! The girls are lucky to have you.

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    • Caitlin May 3, 2012, 7:49 pm

      Awesome, thanks for these resources!

      Reply